Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
imageThe mobilisation of women has taken on many forms across the continent.Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

Women’s organisations have proliferated across Africa and are networking across the continent on an unprecedented scale to create gender-friendly laws and constitutions.

But writing about the women’s and feminist movements is a definitional minefield. The two are often conflated, more so in Africa. Feminist scholar Karen Beckwith observes that the lack of definitional clarity happens particularly in countries where women’s movements and feminist movements have emerged recently.

Women’s movements

Defining a women’s movement is quite complicated. Beckwith makes the important point that the conflation of women’s activism, movements and feminism confounds our ability to make a distinction between women’s class and race interests. She proposes that a women’s movement be defined as a subset of sociopolitical movements with a focus on women’s gendered experiences. An example would be women’s sewing clubs.

In Africa there is a lot of variation between regions in terms of timing, character, influence and effectiveness of women’s movements. Women’s movements arise as a consequence of modernising forces and processes that redefine the meaning of public (politics) and private sphere (household).

Often women’s movements may not have been the champions of equal rights. Instead, they may have sought to protect women’s roles of mothering and care-giving in traditional African societies. This may not always be empowering.


A feminist movement, on the other hand, is characterised by its challenge to patriarchy. It uses a gendered power analysis and contests political, social and other arrangements of domination based on gender. Examples include women’s alliances around reproductive rights.

Gender and women’s studies expert Aili Mari Tripp’s research of women’s organisations in Uganda has shed light on how women organise. She argues that the country’s women’s organisations have distinguished themselves from older forms of mobilisation through autonomous leadership, agendas, strategies and financing.

Ugandan women took up issues that included reproductive rights, political participation of women and media representation of women. They were pluralistic in the issues they took up, but also internally pluralistic in the formation of alliances across religious lines, ethnic and political affiliations.

Women’s resistance to patriarchy in Africa went hand in hand with their opposition to colonialism (and in South Africa, apartheid). They fought liberation struggles for freedom alongside men, but were often left out of transitional negotiations for change to democracy.

In a sense, then, the gender struggles were made subordinate to the struggles against colonialism and racism. In the South African case, women had to fight to get their issues onto the policy agenda and to get a place at the negotiation table.

This type of mobilisation is, however, different from the mobilisation by party’s women’s wing, like the ANC Women’s League. These organisations tow the party line. This is often to the detriment of gender equality where women form alliances with men to support a governing party.

In South Africa, feminist activists formed the Women’s National Coalition in 1992. This was a broad-based women’s movement consisting of women’s organisation across class, race and party lines to develop the Women’s Charter. The aim was to ensure that women’s issues were included in the Bill of Rights.

When this campaign was successfully completed, the coalition became fragmented in the absence of a single issue that kept them together.

New forms of mobilisation

Feminist activists in South Africa are still setting the agenda for change. But the form of mobilisation has changed from a mass-based movement that functions on a national level to localised, temporal movements.

This results from the need for women to engage the democratic state on issues of legislation and policy. The Shukumisa Campaign around gender-based violence and the Alliance for Rural Democracy are two such localised movements of alliance formation. They were characterised by the fact that they were of short duration but involved intense mobilisation around legislation. Both were very successful as ways of keeping the state accountable to women.

The two campaigns show that success on a national level is connected to work done with women on a local level to inform the legislative and policy process.

Women’s organisations are therefore also involved in a “politics of scale”, where local, national and transnational organisations contribute to changing conditions of gender inequality.

Solidarity beyond borders

African women’s participation on a transnational level has become an imperative for shifting the focus from local to global politics. The Feminist Dialogues preceding the World Social Forum of 2007 took place in Nairobi, Kenya.

The first two dialogues in 2004 and 2005 focused on deepening the analysis on globalisation, fundamentalisms and militarism. In 2007 building and rebuilding feminist politics was prioritised. Two more sub-themes were included that year. They were:

  • Feminist ways of working in different regions; and

  • Global feminist strategies for addressing fundamentalisms, neoliberal globalisation and militarism.

The importance of transnational mobilisation cannot be over-emphasised. Many efforts to improve women’s lives are derailed on a global level. Economic restructuring often contributes to the feminisation of poverty where women represent a disproportionate percentage of the world’s poor. Feminism depends on women’s activism as expressed through mobilisation that will lead to significant challenges to patriarchy.

Amanda Gouws does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/unpacking-the-difference-between-feminist-and-womens-movements-in-africa-45258

Writers Wanted

Dog Ownership & Mental Health in Children: 3 Ways Canines Develop A Child's Mind


4 Reasons Why You Should Try Hypnotherapy


Guide to Shipping Container Hire


The Conversation


Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

Guide to Shipping Container Hire

If you are thinking of hiring a shipping container rather than purchasing one, there are many great reasons to do so. It is a more affordable option and when you are done using it for what you neede...

News Co - avatar News Co

Top 5 US Logistics Companies

Nothing is more annoying than having to deal with unreliable shipping companies for your fragile and important packages. Other than providing the best customer service, a logistics company also ne...

News Co - avatar News Co

Luke Lazarus Helps Turns Startups into Global Stalwarts

There are many positive aspects to globalization. It is no secret that those who have been impacted by globalization tend to enjoy a higher standard of living in general. One factor that has led to ...

Emma Davidson - avatar Emma Davidson

News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion